"In addition to stating the reason for the gathering, an invitation at its best must contain a hurdle or demand if accepted. This is not to be inhospitable, but to make even the act of invitation an example of the interdependence we want to experience. So, the invitation is a request not only to show up but to engage. It declares, 'We want you to come, but if you do, something will be required from you.' Too many leadership initiatives or programs are begun with a sales and marketing mindset: How do we seduce people to sign up and feel good about doing things they may not want to do? Real change, however, is a self-inflicted wound." — Peter Block in Community: The Structure of Belonging
What you are selling when you invite people to a paid membership community is change through their experience of community. It's a big promise!
Inviting people to a community should be different from marketing.
If you are building a community defined as “a group of people interested in nurturing their own and one another's growth" then how you grow that community should be different than marketing for other products.
Marketing often emphasizes:
- Everyone is invited
- What's in it for them
Growing a community is about:
- An invitation that's there for when they're ready (doesn't mean they can necessarily come in whenever they want, but that there will be future opportunities to join)
- Not everyone is invited
- Based on alignment instead of fear
- What's expected of them
When you're making your plan for enrolling members into your community, think about them first.
- What does it mean for someone to be "ready" for your community?
- Who are the members that are most aligned with the vision you see for the future?
- What is it that you're asking of them when they join?
Sharing your vision for the future will help you attract your people.
You'll build a tighter community if you lead with what you stand for in your invitation. The story you tell about what you want to create together, is your hook to get your potential community members listening. It doesn't have to be about saving the world, but it should be inspiring to the ideal member you want to attract. Here are a few examples:
"We want all animals to have good lives. We believe that science can improve animal welfare, not just for the animals we have at home, but also those in shelters, in zoos, on farms and in the wild." Petminded
"We exist to define a new status quo. We’re building a world where mutual support is a competitive edge." Dreamers and Doers
"We believe that everyone has an equal right to imagine and create the future. We invite you to join us and catalyze the community, capital, and culture for people building businesses that are better for the world." Zebras Unite
Sharing why you exist gets people thinking bigger than just what their own needs are. Their decision to join becomes more about deciding whether they're a person who believes in the picture you're painting, and less about the features and mechanics of what your community offers them.
When you're ready to make the invitation, Peter Block suggests inviting people "the most personal way possible" and I agree. Consider inviting people one by one, especially in the beginning.
This sample structure for your invitation should work in whatever that most personal way is for you, whether it's a conversation or a landing page.
- Share your vision of what's possible as a group.
- Explain what you're offering them personally.
- Explain who you're looking for and what's expected of them if they say yes.
- Tell them how much it costs.
- Reinforce you are inviting them but give them an easy way to say no.
My thinking on this is inspired by both Peter Block's work on community and Priya Parker's work on gatherings.